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Set financial goals for happy, successful future

Whether you're living paycheck to paycheck or picking out options on your new Lexus, chances are this New Year's you might find yourself making some financial resolutions.

Jennifer Peters can help you come up with those resolutions, no matter what your situation is. She's a certified consumer credit counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama, which is under the umbrella of The Family Center.

"I think these fit for anybody, regardless of their situation," Peters said in a recent interview. Her resolutions are the following:

Have emergency savings. Preferably, you'll have enough to pay three months' worth of bills. "Expect the unexpected," such as getting laid off or hurt on the job.

Have personal goals. "Know what you want, and make those goals happen."

Have a budget. "It's really important to know where your money goes -- every penny." Peters puts her clients' budgets on an Excel spreadsheet so they can keep track of it on their computers.

Pay down debt. You can pay the smallest amount first, or pay the debt with the highest interest rate, whichever gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment. Removing any debt will save you money in the long run.

Start or increase a retirement account. "If you're offered a retirement account at work, take full advantage of that, especially since it's all before taxes." If you don't have a retirement account through your employer, open an IRA wherever you bank. Peters said to start as early as possible, but "it's never too late."

Collect your change. "It all adds up." Peters told a story of a waitress who saved all her $5 tips for two years and had $12,000. Rather than dropping money in the console of your car or letting it gather in the bottom of your purse, save it. It sounds simple, but apparently it works.

If you can't afford a credit counselor, but want to calculate savings yourself, Peters invites you to check out the Consumer Credit Counseling Service website at You can also call 706-327-3239 for more information.

Peters said her agency gets very busy at the first of the year because many people are trying to get their finances in shape as a New Year's resolution. They are also "super busy" during the first months of the year because they prepare free tax returns for people whose income meets the requirements of the program.

So, no matter what you're income, almost everyone can use a little help with financial management. Even if you think you don't have enough money to manage, Peters insists she can work within your budget.

And, don't forget that change. Cha-ching!